Editorial: Buhari and four more years of excuses and fake promises

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“This is my last lap. I will try and work even harder than I have done. I assure you that I will not let you down. I pray that my best will be good enough,” Buhari said.

 ‘I will try and work even harder’, says Buhari

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has assured Nigerians that he will work harder in his second term as president.

Buhari gave the assurance on Wednesday when he received the leadership of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) on a courtesy visit in Abuja.

The president, who campaigned on security, improving the economy, creating jobs, fighting corruption and upgrading infrastructure, said he will intensify efforts to fulfil campaign promises.

The incumbent president defeated his closest challenger, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, in the presidential elections conducted in February.

Buhari, who commended members of ACF for their consistent support, said he remained appreciative of their goodwill.

Chairman of ACF Board of Trustees, Adamu Fika said the organisation visited to congratulate President Buhari on his re-election.

Fika said it was pleasing that the president has been committed to some strategic projects important to the country.

“It is pleasing to note that since then, the Baro Dry Port has been commissioned, while some other projects have been reactivated and are now being implemented.”

“We pray that those organs of government charged with the responsibility for the implementation will double their efforts to ensure that these projects are executed fully to their logical conclusion within a reasonable time,” Fika added.

A claim the other day by the presidency that the previous government of President Goodluck Jonathan was responsible for the five-month delay by President Muhammadu Buhari in appointing his ministers in 2015 is laughable and incredible. Were it not expressed by so high an official of government as  presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, this assertion would have been regarded as too ridiculous to even merit attention or comment. It is indeed unfortunate that this comment has compelled us, for the second time this week, to focus on a blame-game-related issue.  

It is unfortunate that, for the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) that won election on a promise of ‘change’ three and half years ago, the blame-game has become a refrain ad infinitum, to justify its inability to deliver on the contents of its campaign manifesto and its particular pledge to change governance from the generally crooked ways and underperformance of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to a more open, effective and efficient management of the affairs of this country.

A fixation with looking backward prevents the ability to look forward and see ahead. No one, or people, can make progress that way. Indeed, it is the recipe for failure. The presidency’s excuse that the Jonathan administration did not cooperate with the then incoming one is lame and dubious.  Alhaji Ahmed Joda who headed the Transition Committee said, on the occasion of submitting his 800-page report to Buhari in June 2015 that “…we received wonderful cooperation from everybody in Nigeria…” and that “everybody contributed to the success of our work.”  Furthermore, Joda was reported to have denied on that occasion that the submission of his report delayed the pace of the Buhari administration. 

Not unexpectedly, the opposition has punctured the excuse saying,“…President Buhari could not form a cabinet for over five months after his inauguration primarily due to sheer incompetence, lack of preparedness and the fact that he was overwhelmed by the complexity of the office…” 

Recall that Buhari sought and failed to be president of the country three times. He won on his fourth attempt. It is only reasonable to expect that every attempt was preceded by a clearheaded and well-thought-through plan on the goals and objectives of his government on the one hand, the  strategies, personnel and  resources he would marshal to achieve the former, on the other. That is how serious-minded seekers of high office in serious climes do it.  Not this government.

Buhari was sworn in as president on May 29, 2015. He constituted a cabinet on November 11, 2015, nearly half a year after. In between, he relied on permanent secretaries of ministries to perform the constitutionally spelt-out roles and functions of ministers. But permanent secretaries, highly placed, experienced and respectable as they may be, are, by the rules of the presidential system of government, limited in the exercise of the authority and powers of a ministerial office. Even the very crucial position of secretary to the government of the federation (SGF) was left unfilled.

From its observation of the Buhari administration’s style, this newspaper has occasionally remarked that the ruling political party seems to be merely a ‘special-purpose vehicle’ put together to take power for its accrued benefits by a band of politicians not prepared  for the  noble  task of good governance. 

The point must be made that the 1999 Constitution (as amended) does not envisage that as a country under the rule of law, a democratically elected Nigerian government subject to its provisions should function without according to 144(5), an “executive council of the Federation”  meaning “ the body of ministers  of the Government of the Federation …established  by the President and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of government as the President may direct.” Besides,  Section 148 (2)(a-c)  stipulates that, “The President shall hold regular meetings with the Vice-President and all the ministers of the government  of the federation for the purpose  of  determining the  general direction  of domestic  and foreign policies of the government, coordinating  the activities of the President, the Vice-President and the ministers of the government of the federation  and the discharge of  their executive  responsibilities; and  advising the President generally  in the discharge of  his executive  functions…”.

It may not be stretching things too far that this government started out failing to keep faith with, at least, the spirit of the constitution.  In response to the question of his delay while on a foreign visit, Buhari assured – or more correctly, claimed – that his government was functioning nonetheless and asserted contemptuously that in any case, ministers merely serve as noisemakers.

That is an insult on the constitution quoted above.  Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo offered a more reasonable but still less- than-believable explanation for a six-month failure to form a federal cabinet. He said at a discourse on change agents in February 2016 that “the key issue is always in finding the right persons for any task; a tough task indeed in a corrupt system. This is a system where the norm is corrupt behaviour across all arms of formal systems of governance.”  Considering the APC manifesto that promised to “attract the best and brightest into our politics and public service…”, expectations were high that  at last,  a quality team  would be put together to  re-direct Nigeria unto the path of probity and progress. We regret to say that Nigerians have been much disappointed.

Osinbajo’s explanation would make sense but for the unimpressive collection of ministers that eventually emerged as Buhari’s cabinet.  And, a few years into the life of this government, it has emerged that there was not at all the thoroughness in selection that Osinbajo would make Nigerians believe.  First, two ministers have been accused of the criminal act of dodging the mandatory call to serve the fatherland through the compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme.

The integrity of at least two other political appointees has been publicly questioned. And, contrary to the APC promise to “amend the constitution to remove immunity  from prosecution for elected officers in criminal cases” even public officers not so covered have been tolerated and  shielded from the law.

Besides, even ministers who are not doubted in that respect have the insufferable flaw to blame their lackluster performance on past administrations.

The gospel, according to Buhari, his ministers and other political appointees, is that power, agricultural output, employment, value of the naira,  the economy generally, the education sector, general quality of life, every area of national life are stagnating or regressing because the past administration failed to do one thing or other. This is not acceptable. There is a saying that one who cannot take the heat should simply get out of the kitchen.

Nigerians did not vote for the present government to listen to endless whining, moaning, complaints and passing of blame ad nauseam. This government was entrusted with leadership to turn the sordid state of things around. So, it is the duty of every responsible administration to seek to make better the situation it met and anything less than that is a celebration of incompetence.

It is shameful and indeed paradoxical that a Jonathan administration that many thought was the ultimate in incompetent governance has been given a fertile ground to accuse this government, in the same vein. Having spent more time complaining on the job than getting it done, the Buhari government has very little time left now. It must stop forthwith, its fixation on the past and do something for which it may be remembered.